I’m in the search for the best sales tool to sell solar pv, solar thermal and geothermal. I am building a renewable energy company, and I’m focused on building the most profitable company I can. We’re a small company, we haven’t raised venture capital so we’re driven by cash, and we like simple, elegant, and effective solutions. So, finding the prefect tool is very important to us. I’m inspired to create a pocket guide to selling renewable energy projects after finding a similar pocket for carpenters (see right). It’s simple, cheaper and super effective. It perfectly supplements the knowledge of a well trained carpenter.

First, let me discuss why finding the perfect sales tool is so important to me and also represents a larger business philosophy. Profitability is extremely important to me and the industry as a whole. Not only do we need to show that renewable energy is profitable but that’s it’s MORE profitable then other activities. By profitable, I mean our net, before tax, profit margin not absolute profit. In order to do this, we must minimize overhead so that we’re very nimble. Being nimble is just as important as being diversified. If jobs in a certain technology dry up, we don’t want the company to die. A sales tool, and the processes and principles it represents, will have a huge impact on our ability to be profitable.

In order to do this, we’re being extremely diligent with our marketing activities. We’re going to make sure we understand what factors lead a client to close faster, for more money, with the least amount of marketing dollars and time spent, and then find more of those types of clients. It sounds simple, it’s hard to implement. The long term goal is that each client leads to more business through word of mouth. They love us so much that they’ll tell all their friends. In order to facilitate this we’ll provide a couple “artifacts”, like a project DVD, to each client after the installation is complete. The DVD will make “sharing” of the project between neighbors easy. To get referrals you first need a few first jobs. We’ll get the ball rolling by creating a “homeowner” workshop. Learn how we create the workshop and presentation here. The workshop will be something that is extremely useful to the homeowner and also provide a personal connection to our company, so they trust and respect us, because they’re know us personally. Our marketing is based on being authentic, transparent, and useful. You heard it right, our marketing is based on two activities. That’s it, very simple.

Although we know how we want the system to look, it’ll take a lot of time and testing to get there.

On the operations side, we’re structuring the company so that it will naturally optimize itself around being profitability while being extremely efficient operationally (no overheard). We’re not interested in paying sales people based revenue commission because they may sell jobs that don’t make money. We will have teams of people work on projects together and be paid based on the profitability of that job because everyone who works on the job impacts it’s profitability. If this seems crazy, read “The Great Game of Business.” Jack Stack is the man.

The marketing activities and operation activities have a huge overlap in many places of the business, but the largest overlap come during the site visit and when the contract is signed. With marketing, we want the highest profit in the least amount of time. This means we’re interested in decreasing the number of leads that we deal with BUT increasing the closing ratio of each lead. It’s much more profitable to deal with 20 leads, where 10 close then 100 leads where 10 close. If you were only looking at the number of closed leads you’d think they were the same. However, dealing with 100 leads take a lot of time and this time is hard to track because its a “soft cost” for the business, but it’s there. Trust me.

Also, making as few site visit as possible has a very practical application in Maine, a rural state. First, I don’t want to spending all my time (and money) chasing leads around. Second, it’s extremely expensive to make so many site visits in a rural state that is not very dense.

How does this marketing overlap with sales, and specifically the site visit where sales tools come into play. Let’s use an example, a client attends our workshop , files out our qualification form and is determined high qualified, (make a post on what highly qualified is) so we make a site visit. In that site visit we need a sales tool that will work with how we plan on running the businesses. So, we need the perfect sales tool because our business will be run differently then most.

Let me try and outline our thoughts process for finding the perfect sales tool.

First, here are our values when looking at different sales software.

Our principles – this will give you an idea how we think about the tools we use and how’d we’ve evaluated tools to use. I want you to know where we’re coming from, if you have similar principles this tool may also be useful to you. 

  1. Make as most money as possible with the least effort. We’re looking to have a net profit margin of 30% and feel this starts with eliminating unnecessary tasks and optimizing needed tasks. Eliminate systems if you don’t need them. Create really simple systems if you do need them. The business is run on cash.
  2. Question everything. See our thoughts on business structure.
  3. Do quality work and do the it right the first time. This should be self-explanatory, we’re not going to do bad work.
  4. Only do things once. This impact two major activities. First, we’ll only want to make one site visit. Either the person will close or not. Our goal will be to get a $1k down payment for the service. Even if they don’t close on the initial site visit, we will not make another visit to the site to create a close. Second, don’t copy and paste any data, enter it once and allow the people who need it access to it.
  5. Multiple Technologies. First, this means we’re going to have an awesome team that knows each technology. But also, we need to be able to advice on and design multiple technologies with the SAME tool.
  6. Efficient and scalable. It must do more then one thing at once. If we’re sizing a system and collect a downpayment from the client we should also create a BOM to send to our distributor and/or a 3 line diagram for a PV system. After all, if we’ve designed and quoted the system, we might as well get the permit in the same day.

What do we need to be able to do on the site visit?

Sales process

  • Be focused on the customer, not a laptop. What do I mean by this? When I’m on the site visit and I need to be able to connect with a customer, listen to them, ask questions and really listen to them. A laptop is too clunky, I never want to say “hold on a second, can I set my laptop up and take this information down.”
  • Print out the contract. I need to be able to listen to the customer, ask questions, input data and also print the contract on the spot.
  • Show 3d mockups of the building after we take pictures of it. This is specifically for solar jobs as geothermal jobs rarely have any pieces that are seen to the homeowner. After I take pictures of the roof, I want to be able to instantly create a 3D mockup of what the roof will look like so they can see. This will also be sent to the installation crew.
  • Create financial documents and analysis instantly: Because we’ll be working with solar thermal, solar pv and geothermal we need to be able advise on all of them. We need a system that will be able to provide financial recommendations based on the site, customer behavior and technology instantly. If a customer has a budget of $50k and wants to know where to invest, I need to be able to tell them.

Gathering data about the site. Remember, if we collect data, we never want to copy and paste it.

  • Collect qualifying data: We need to be able to collect more qualifying data about the client. I say more, because we are going to already have collected a lot from from the site visit form on the landing page. But we need to be able to add to this if we can more data.
    • Behavior Data. We need to be able to collect utilities bills and other information about behavior.
  • Collect information on the site. We need to be able to collect site data, both about the physical site layout and also the building construction.
    • Physical Site. What is the layout of the yard? House? Where can we make runs? Both for pv and thermal, but duct for geothermal systems. We need to get pictures and input measurements. You may be saying that this will take a lot of time. Yes, it may. But I’d rather do this then take 2 or 3 site visits.
    • Building Construction. What is the pitch of the roof? Type and age of roof? How high is the roof?

Designing the system: Remember we only want to visit the site once (it costs less money and time) so based on we’ll need to collect the following information.

  • Minimum amount of information needed to design a system.
    • Solar PV. Existing service. Area for chase. Roof conditions.
    • Thermal. Roof information. Existing heating system. Where runs can go.
    • Geo. Existing system heating. Electrical Service. House layout (needed for Manual D) , Yard Layout, building shell information that is needed for Manual J calculations.

Streamlining the Processes: Only enter information one. Copying and pasting data increasing potential errors and is also a waste of time.

  • If the contract is signed. The system needs to create a preliminary bill of materials for the job.
  • Create a 3 line diagram instantly. if we close the project, I should have the 3 line and get the permit on the site visit. Again, MINIMIZE time and costs.

What is currently available on the market for sales tools?

I’ve looked into all the tools and they all provide some of the solutions we need, but not all. Here’s what we’ve looked at so far and why we feel they fall short given how we plan on running our company.

  1. Andy Black – OnGrid Solar
  2. Clean Power Finance
  3. Eagle View

Don’t get me wrong, none of these pieces of software are bad. In fact, I’ve heard extremely positive things about them from many people. They just don’t work for our situation.

Here’s  why we feel they fall short. 

  1. All Laptop Based, Not Mobile. I need something that is mobile and not cluck. This needs to work on an iPhone or iPad. I prefer iPad because it makes presentation to customers better but it could be on the iPhone as well.
  2. Capture, Store and Sync Images and Photos. The software needs to be able to seemly capture images, store them, and send them to design and installation crew all in one. I’m not interested in having an application AND a digital camera, it’s just a pain in the butt to deal with.
  3. They only focus on one technology. It needs to be able size all technology – solar thermal, pv and geothermal.
  4. They’re to expensive. I need something cheap and effective. I don’t want to pay for more then I’m using. Most of these softwares are hundreds of dollar to purchase or to pay for on a monthly basis. This might work if you’re Solar City, raised hundreds of millions of dollars and have hundreds of salesman across the country. But as a small business with far less then 50 employees, I don’t want to spend that amount of cash.
  5. They do to much, or too little. Either they’re made for designers and not sales people. Or, they’re made just for sales people and don’t capture enough data for the design team. I’m not going to name names because I’m not trying to sling mud.

Creating the Pocket Guide to Renewable Energy Sales

HERE’s where we’re going to start to solve this problem. Remember crawl, walk, run. We’ll start slow, test, and when we find what works we’ll scale it.

We’re going to create a pocket guide to selling and design solar thermal, pv and geo. I got the idea after seeing a “carpenters pocket guide” kicking around the shop last week. It’s amazingly useful for carpenters when they’re looking at bidding jobs, or ordering materials on an existing job.

This will be a simple standardized form 2 to 3 pages, that I can use for all site visits. It will show me what works but also provide a template for what the software can do. The idea is to figure out what works best on paper then translate that into mobile software.

Our “pocket guide to designing renewable energy systems” will allow us to.

  1. Gather more qualifying information.
  2. Rules of thumb for financial recommendations. The guide will provide me enough information cost a system and provide financial analysis based on Maine state incentives and their
  3. Collecting all design information.
  4. A contract where we can fill in information to gather a downpayment. Remember, we’ll never make a second site visit. If the customer is ready to buy, we need to be able to fill in a contract and get it signed.
  5. A standard format of information collection with a check list. All information in the checklist must be collected on the first site visit. Key for efficiency and scalability.

One we figure out how the information flows, we’ll make the system mobile that will allow us to:

  1. Never copy and paste data again. It will already be in the computer
  2. Print the contract.
  3. Show 3d mockups the customer
  4. Provide instant financial analysis that is more accurate and less based on rules of thumb. This includes job costs and savings.

Question to Renewable Energy Contractors

I’d love to hear any feedback of small contractors and what sales tools or process they use. Again, this tool is for small companies that don’t have huge budget but need a really effective tool.

What sales tool do you use? How effective is it? What would make it more useful?

If you don’t use a sale tool, what is the single most useful thing you use or would like to use in a sales tool?

If you’re interested in getting the pocket guide (for free) when I publish it, provide you information below and I’ll send it to you in a later article.